Something stirring in the swamp

shrek and fiona

Dean Chisnall as Shrek and Faye Brookes as Fiona. Pictures: Helen Maybanks

Shrek – The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

CAN you believe it’s 14 years since DreamWorks very own jolly green giant, or at least their big friendly ogre, first hit our screens? And now he’s back in a larger than life, genuinely family musical.

But don’t worry if you have never seen the film or its sequels and thought Shrek was some hip name for a breakfast cereal, this is a fun musical that not only stands, but positively dances on its own two feet – don’t miss the Pied Piper and the tap dancing rats.

There is plenty to amuse the children – you can’t go wrong with bodily functions –and plenty of two tier humour to give adults a laugh on one level and and kids a smile on the other, not always the easiest trick in the book, but pulled off here in style.

Grown-up themes are there, they just don’t get in the way of a simple storyline which will appeal to children of all ages.

The story is simple, Shrek is an ogre living happily and peacefully in a lonely sort of way in a swamp until a storybookful of fairytale characters exiled from the farquaarcity of Duloc, ruled by the evil, and credit where credit is due, the also very funny, Lord Farquaad.

With his Swamp turned into a fairytale housing estate Shrek, who has picked up a wisecracking donkey along the way, goes to Dulac and does a deal with his Lordship – rescue a princess locked in a tower protected by a fire breathing, and as it turns out, soul singing dragon, bring the princess back to marry Farquaar and Shrek can have the deeds to the swamp and evict the exiled stotybook characters. Simple.

Except that among the fun there is also a love story and a morality tale, something about not judging a book by its cover, love being blind, and taking people for what they are and not how they look.

Gerard Careyas Lord Farquaar - he's the one in the middle

You can’t argue with the sentiment, or indeed the presentation with a high energy, fast paced show with scenes sliding in and out, up and down seamlessly in Tim Hatley’s colourful, comic book style design.

Dean Chisnall must have played Shrek so often he must be in danger of turning green, two years in the West End, a year on tour and a year to go. He was asked what his dream job in acting would be and said simply: ”This is it”, and it shows. He is clearly enjoying every minute waddling around stage in his padded suit and his enthusiasm rubs off on the audience.

Not that he is alone. On Faye Brookes last visit to Birmingham we described her performance as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde as faultless, and nothing has really changed as Princess Fiona. She is just superb - sassy, bossy, a bit vulnerable underneath the feisty image, and what a voice.

Gerard Carey turns in a comic gem as Lord Farquaad, which looks simple but must be a remarkably physically demanding role. His timing is immaculate at times showing the comic power of the pause.

And for wisecracking fun we have Idriss Kargbo as Donkey in a streetwise,dragon or should that be swampwise, performance of laughs with a bit of R&B throw in.

The film, which was based on New Yorker cartoonist William Steig’s 1990 fairytale picture book, poked a little gentle fun at other fairy stories and children’s films, mainly Disney, such as Peter Pan and Snow White – twice - and the stage show adds a few more references including The Lion King and even Les Miserables.

Idriss Kargbo as Donkey with the stunning dragon.

There are some good special effects, such as the animated gingerbread man and a wonderful, soul singing dragon which fills the stage. All right you can see the puppeteers, but who cares, the effect is spectacular – a giant flying dragon that sings with a backing group of knights in stocks – don’t ask.

Around the four leads is an excellent ensemble who are knights villagers, fairytale characters and anything else needed – backstage must be controlled chaos with all the costume changes.

The 12 strong orchestra under musical director David Rose is big for a touring show, and it shows with a full sound – and little snatches, here and there, of themes from some famous movies if you listen carefully.

Directed by Nigel Harman and with music by Jeanine Tesori and a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, this really is a fun show for all ages. To 24-04-15

Roger Clarke

01-14-15

Shrek - The Musical is also at The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton Sept 30 - 11 Oct

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